I used to enjoy recommending TV shows to people. Partly because I believe in television as a superior artistic medium. Also I’m an insufferable know-it-all. There used to be a time, however, in the not-too-distant past where culture needed an insufferable know-it-all to help curate their TV watching experience.
There needed to be someone out there with a unique mix of good taste and lack of observable social skills to but into conversations and say things like “Oh you’re watching Two Broke Girls? You should really be giving Broad City a shot.” or “You gave up on Halt and Catch Fire after season one? Well check back in because it’s gotten better.”
In the new reality we live in of “Peak TV,” however, my job just isn’t as necessary.
The truth is that there are so many superb TV shows, that’s it’s almost impossible to make a poor choice. You want a recommendation? Just turn your TV on to whatever channel it’s set to around 9 p.m. and you’ll probably see something perfectly amazing. Or just open up your Netflix account, close your eyes and click on something. Oh, you’ve gotten Narcos! Good for you – Narcos is great!
Nobody needs me anymore to help them to avoid bad TV-watching decisions because there is almost no such thing as a bad TV show.
Having said that… drop whatever you’re doing and watch Black Mirror. You should be watching Black Mirror. Your girlfriend should be watching Black Mirror. Your dad should be watching Black Mirror. Your drug-dealer should be watching Black Mirror. Your Indian Ringneck parrot should be watching Black Mirror.
Black Mirror is a Twilight Zone-esque anthology show about the horror and surreality of life in the future (a.k.a the present) that began on England’s Channel 4 with two, three-episode seasons. After a trial run with a Christmas special on Netflix, Black Mirror is coming to the streaming giant full-time where it was fittingly spend the rest of its days in the queue next to The Twilight Zone. Netflix commissioned two seasons of six episodes, the first of which debuts on October 21.
Black Mirror is the type of of show that we, as citizens of a surely dystopian future, deserve. Previous seasons of Black Mirror presented ideas as science fiction that always seem like they were one Apple keynote address away from being a reality. An implant that allows you to relive all of your memories? Surely that will be in iOS 11. A service that recreates a dead loved one’s personality from their social media posts? Zuckerberg is undoubtedly knee-deep in that now.
Sometimes even Black Mirror’s most outlandish ideas end up scooped by the laws of stranger-than-fiction like when it’s debut episode “The National Anthem” presented a scenario in which the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom would have to have, um, sexual intercourse with a pig and then reality spoke up and was like “been there, done that, fucked that pig, wrote a book about it.”
Being a superior TV show is not just about accuracy, however. Black Mirror isn’t “Nostradamus Sings the Hits.” It’s a science fiction film festival* where each film emotional and logically connects to we brave time travelers, living through what is surely the future. We need to watch TV shows or consume art for many reasons. One reason that Black Mirror gives us that I never anticipated is pure science fiction empathy. Black Mirror puts its arm around your back and assures you that, “yes, all this technology is weird. But we’re gonna find the humanity in it, buddy, I swear.”
*Creator Charlie Brooker referred to season three as a “film festival”, himself, in an interview with us this summer.
Part of me was worried that this empathy would not translate well with Black Mirror’s move to Netflix and the doubling of its season episode order. I’m happy to report, however, that season three of Black Mirror on Netflix is just as essential and affecting as it ever was.
Of the four episodes viewed for this review*, not one is an out and out clunker. Some are undeniably better than others but each one has something relevant to say about the way we are, way we were and way we’ll always be.
*The four episodes viewed were “San Junipero,” “Nosedive,” “Shut Up and Dance” and “Men Against Fire.” The other two in the season are titled “Hated in the Nation” and “Playtest.”
The weakest of the bunch is undoubtedly the one that most closely resembles present-day technological reality: “Shut Up and Dance” which stars Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones) and Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game) and takes the concept of internet trolling to the extreme. The other three, however, range from superb to stone-cold classics.
“Men Against Fire” is bleak and terrifying while “San Junipero” is surreally optimistic and human. “Nosedive” is the real gem of the bunch, however, with a concept that is in the perfect Black Mirror wheelhouse of futuristic and disturbingly plausible. It also features perhaps the most impressive roster of talent involved of any Black Mirror entry yet with Michael Schur and Rashida Jones (both of Parks and Rec) as writers, Joe Wright (Atonement) behind the camera and Alice Eve and Bryce Dallas Howard starring.
“Nosedive” may prove to be the most zeitgeist of the entries I’ve viewed thus far and the one I predict most people will use as a starting point for the uninitiated. The entry lays bare the essential truth of each episode of Black Mirror: things change, people don’t.
Any further discussion of the plot would be a disservice as this is one of the few shows that even the spoiler-immune will want to watch with fresh eyes. And yes, you should watch it. Despite seemingly every show in the universe being essential and perfect right now, Black Mirror is on the even shorter list of the essential-er and perfect-er.
You live a bizarre, confusing life, dear citizen of the future. Black Mirror is the show you deserve.